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  • Writer's pictureVioleta M. Bagia

Writing fiction versus fantasy: what’s the difference?

Fiction and fantasy are two popular genres that can sometimes overlap. But as with all genres there are distinct differences and rules we as writers must learn. While both involve storytelling and creating characters, they do differ in their approach to the imaginary elements of their stories.

At it's core, fiction is based on reality: the characters, events and settings are generally in a known place and time and most events are plausible and could happen in the real world. We may take creative liberties as writers, but the story is ultimately grounded in reality. Fiction may contain a wide range of genres, including romance, mystery, crime and historical fiction, among countless others. While still fictitious it focuses heavily on character development and telling stories that resonate with readers on a personal level.

On the other hand, fantasy writing is primarily rooted in the imagination. Think of big, epic worlds like Lord of The Rings, Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones. These types of stories often involve magical or supernatural elements that are not possible i

n the real world. Fantasy novels usually take place in a completely different world which has been created for the story or, in the case of urban fantasy, it can be set in our own world, but with elements of magic, mythical creatures, and otherworldly powers. Think of Harry Potter, Twilight and Percy Jackson. While this is just a very top level view, the genre can be broken down into further sub categories that have their own conventions and tropes.

The key differences between fiction and fantasy writing is the level of world-building required. In fiction, the author can rely on the reader's knowledge of the real world and the focus is on building the characters and the story instead whereas in fantasy, the writer needs to create a world, the politics therein, the rules the world revolves around and the characters. Every aspect of the world needs to be concisely fleshed out and detailed in a way that allows the reader to be completely immersed in the story and able to suspend their belief long enough to enjoy the world you’ve thrown them in.

Magic and supernatural abilities may be used in both fiction and fantasy however it may be central to the plot of the latter rather than an additional plot device in the former.

Even though both genres are distinctly different and require the writer to stick to specific conventions, both fiction and fantasy writing offer unique opportunities for authors to explore different themes and ideas. Fiction being more relatable allows authors to draw from real-life experiences and emotions, while fantasy provides a canvas for limitless imagination and creativity. Having said that, it doesn't mean that real world themes and topics can’t be brought up in fantasy in a way that makes them palatable for different audiences. There may be elements of crime, politics, emotional and mental health being discussed heavily in fantasy even though your main character is a regal faerie going into battle on a beetle.

While fiction and fantasy writing do share some similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart. Understanding that fiction is based in reality and focuses on character development, while fantasy is rooted in the imagination and often involves magical or supernatural elements allows the writer to bend the rules once they understand them in order to create new and diverse worlds.

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